Excellent news via Mark Goodacre about a new series from Gorgias Press about the impact computer technology can (and could) have on biblical studies: Bible in Technology:
"The Bible in Technology (BIT) is a series that explores the intersection between biblical studies and computer technology. It also includes studies that address the application of computer technology to cognate fields of ancient history. The series provides a forum for presenting and discussing advancements in this area, such as new software or techniques for analyzing biblical materials, online projects, and teaching resources. The series also seeks to reflect on the contribution and impact of computer technology on biblical research and teaching methods."
Besides the obvious impact these tools can have on scholarship, it is entirely possible that the current exploration of various database packages, imaging programs, and online virtualization platforms will change the appearance of biblical studies classrooms within the next generation of teaching. I can imagine walking students through Paul's missionary journeys via a set of Google Earth reconstructions of major Greco-Roman urban centers. Consider the ease with which students can be trained to deal with textual variants through the evolving online NA 28, and schooled in the basics of NT manuscript features with reference to commonly available hi-res images. Even just the potential similar software holds for rooting the student's first experience of NT theology and narration in physical materials is provocative. We are moving quickly beyond PowerPoint here. In terms of emerging forms of pedagogy, I look forward to the possiblity that this series may provide the practical tools for teachers eager to provide more immersive contexts for learning.
And beyond this, the wikification of biblical studies in a plethora of blogs and twitters is but one facet of the changing face of the Bible in Technology. It is the increased functionality of text-critical databases that will move debate about text-types forward. We can't even quite predict what the increased focus on digital imaging (as at CSNTM) will produce, at least an increase in knowledge of both the breadth and depth of existing fragments and manuscripts. Every year I attend papers on ANE archeology more to see what impact tech is having on that guild than anything else, and one can see such innovation clearly in the first volume to be published by Gorgias Press on virtual Qumran. It is important to note that new technologies can affect academic scholarship in the same the way technology affects other disciplines or industries. The shift towards the internet as a news source, for example, has affected the very form of advertising and journalism. In the same way that the printing press affected literacy habits, so has digital publishing begin to create seismic shifts in the way we relate to texts. This is all entry-level McLuhan, but the effect of technology on the way we percieve antiquity and historiography has been tested more specifically by Walter Ong (Orality and Literacy) and Jeffrey Staley (The Print's First Kiss). Beyond the ability of emerging technology to arrange and articulate large fields of data that NT scholars, textual critics, and papyrologists have been wrapping their heads around for centuries, software can actually create new disciplines of thought that otherwise could not exist.
Consider, for example, a visual updating of Turner's Typology of the Codex, which would lay out the same data (including minor modifications and updates) with hypertexted reference to each manuscript and feature listed. Such a tool would provide the codicological database that doesn't currently exist, but it would also enable us to further root our understanding of the scribal process in more clarified historical forms. It would enable us to think of this newly accessible record as a searchable collection of artifacts rather than a set of figures which could only previously be "seen" through charts and graphs. The odd effect of a continued use of technology may not be the disembodiment of New Testament history through the same virtualizing processes that have characterized effects of the internet in other industries, but the evocation of an historical realism that has otherwise been inacessible to the casual student.
So, other than the possibility that this series may eventually alight on the topic of what current tech can reveal about books and literacy in the first and second century (as if there were anyone that could speak to this specific topic), it will be well worth keeping tabs on it for two reasons:
1. It may provide the post-PowerPoint practical tools that enable teachers to create more immersive learning contexts and student access points to all the fields of data that copy machines can't really provide.
2. It may not just track the ways in which technology is increasing the accuracy, adaptability, and searchability of current databases, but it may also chart the movement of scholarship towards schools of thought that can only be enacted within these emerging technologies themselves.